At the International media launch of the then-new BMW 7 Series at which iDrive was first introduced, they had an engineer sit in the car with each journalist for half an hour explaining how this system worked.
OK, so any new technology needs some explanation.
But this might have been our first clue that it wasn't the most intuitive thing ever devised.
The objective was fine - to enable all the functions that modern electronics can add to the driving experience, but combine the controls needed to operate them into a single system, thereby saving valuable dash and centre console space.
But the execution was, shall we say, somewhat lacking.
Various other companies have tried the same idea. Mercedes-Benz's COMAND system was, if anything, even harder to comprehend. Audi's MMI - Multi-Media Interface, I think it was called - appeared to take advantage of its competitors' mistakes, and was considerably easier to manipulate.
Jaguar and others went with a touch screen, which is maybe the easiest to operate. But there is a built-in conflict in this concept, between ease of reach and ease of viewing - the farther away the screen, the closer to the operator's (driver's or passenger's) line of sight, but the harder it is to access.
Nissan's Infiniti division probably did it best; same concept - a mouse-like knob with point-and-click actions to select the various systems and values you wanted, but for some reason, it just made more sense - to me, at least.
BMW came up with a simplified iDrive which worked better, and on their newest 7, an entirely new design which again is a huge improvement on the original.
Most such systems have voice activation too. I must not be the only person who never bothers to learn how to use this function, because car companies keep trying to come up with ways to manipulate such systems by hand.
And I drove a Lexus RX450h hybrid the other day, and it may have the best yet, with a system they call Remote Touch.
A trapezoidal knob in the palm-rest housing on the centre console moves a cursor on the dash-mounted screen. Built-in electronic resistance (it's called 'haptic feedback') means that unlike a computer mouse/arrow, it wants to stop only in places where you have an option to select something. And, it will automatically centre itself on one of those options if you get close enough.
In the screen shown here (the Main Menu) you can select one of those five options, then press one of the Enter buttons, which, like some of the more complex computer mice, are elongated buttons on either side of the housing.
That brings up a sub-menu, move the cursor, hit Enter, and on it goes.
What really helps are the dedicated buttons just ahead of the controller knob. One touch of your index finger takes you back to the Main Menu, so if you do get lost in the maze, there's an easy way out.
And on the assumption that the most common use of this system will be navigation, the right-most button instantly displays the map.
Maybe Remote Touch only feels more intuitive to those who spend most of their waking hours on a computer, which surely encompasses most who would be attracted to a vehicle like the Lexus 450h Hybrid in the first place. The same system is expected to work its way onto other Lexus and, probably, higher-end Toyotas over time.
Ain't progress wonderful?